ViPS Invited Seminar December 2023

Donal O'Sullivan, University of Reading, UK

Date: 13th December 2023

Time: 13:00

Title: Exploiting faba bean genetic diversity to optimize the seed for use in plant-based diets

Location: Auditorium 1041, Biocentre 2, Viikinkaari 5

Host: Alan Schulman

Abstract: The faba bean (Vicia faba L.) was domesticated >10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent from an unknown or extinct wild ancestor, but the remarkable diversity and adaptability of the domesticated form has enabled it to become a truly global crop grown from sub-tropical to cool temperate agroclimatic zones. In the modern age, its scientific study and economic exploitation has been greatly overshadowed by the more protein-rich soybean, but concerns over the land use change and carbon footprint associated with soybean have led to a sharp rise in interest in faba bean as a source of “alternative” protein for the plant-based food industry, particularly in northern Europe.  

Huge progress has been made in recent years in developing a sophisticated toolkit for genetic analysis in faba bean as well as in curating and characterising the genetic diversity in the primary genepool. This has enabled us to confidently begin exploring the layered effects of genetic makeup, developmental patterns and response to growth conditions in determining how the faba bean seed varies in composition. In this seminar, I will focus mainly on the protein constituents of the faba bean seed as these represent almost 30% by weight of the mature seed and are the main driver of end use and hence value of the crop. I will outline how we have approached the task of describing, quantifying and ultimately finding causative genetic variants determining nutritionally or functionally relevant changes in seed protein composition and if time permits, give some perspectives on how this growing body of understanding may be exploited to breed novel varieties of faba bean that combine both high protein quantity and quality, and how this is also relevant to a new project which aims to use bread as a vehicle to bring the health benefits of a pulse-rich diet to a much wider cross-section of the population.

Donal is a Professor of Crop Science in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading in the UK. He was introduced to the world of legume improvement through his PhD on common bean anthracnose at the University of Paris-Sud, but has worked on maize, barley and wheat genomics and genetics as a postdoc at the Institute of Arable Crops Research (now Rothamsted Research) and as research programme leader in National Institute of Agricultural Botany, Cambridge. After moving to Reading in 2013, he returned to legumes where his group have pioneered a sequence of array and sequence-based high throughput genotyping technologies in faba bean, generated the high density genetic map used as a chromosomal scaffold for the reference faba bean genome assembly, and identified causal genes for a series of seed traits. He has recently initiated a commercial breeding programme aiming to develop novel faba bean varieties (

Read more about Donal's work

Related publications:

Jayakodi, M., Golicz, A. A., Kreplak, J., Fechete, L. I., Angra, D., O’Sullivan D.M., Shulman A.H., Andersen S.U.A. et al. (2023) The giant diploid faba genome unlocks variation in a global protein crop. Nature, 615, 652-659.

Lovegrove, J. A., O'Sullivan, D. M., Tosi, P., Millan, E., Todman, L. C., Bishop, J., et al. (2023) ‘Raising the Pulse’: The environmental, nutritional and health benefits of pulse-enhanced foods. Nutrition Bulletin, 48, 134-143.

Skovbjerg, C. K., Angra, D., Robertson-Shersby-Harvie, T., Kreplak, J., O’Sullivan D.M. Andersen S.U.A. et al. (2023) Genetic analysis of global faba bean diversity, agronomic traits and selection signatures. Theor Appl Genet, 136, 114.

Warsame, A. O., Michael, N., O’Sullivan, D. M. and Tosi, P. (2022) Seed Development and Protein Accumulation Patterns in Faba Bean (Vicia faba, L.). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 70, 9295-9304.

Warsame, A. O., Michael, N., O’Sullivan, D. M. and Tosi, P. (2020) Identification and Quantification of Major Faba Bean Seed Proteins. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 68, 8535-8544.